Raves, Rants & Reviews from Emmy Award Winning Journalist & Anchor, Melanie Alnwick
I am so conflicted.
I hear the masses sharpening their pitchforks and building the pillories.
In my heart, I agree that our schools should be welcoming, safe harbors for refugee children who are fleeing violence.
But my head says… wait a minute. And after researching the issues, I am left with this:
What is the more humane course of action?
Since 2014, the U.S. has taken in at least 160-thousand unaccompanied minors. That’s just the number that the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement says have been apprehended by immigration authorities. They are, by law, transferred to government shelters where they spend an average of 34 days – being sheltered, fed, and given medical care. During that time, the children’s sponsors (usually family members) must pass background checks. The sponsors have to agree to make sure the child shows up for an immigration hearing – and report for removal by ICE if that’s what a judge decides. Then they are sent to stay with their sponsors.
The children’s journey to the border is often traumatic.U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports many have been trafficked and smuggled. A Montgomery County Police Department briefing states “The unaccompanied minors who embark on their flight from their native countries face significant risks including extortion, robbery, physical and sexual assaults that further contribute to the trauma they suffer from.”
Their parents in the U.S. are victims too. Many illegal themselves, they work in the shadows: long hours for little pay, no sick time or benefits… scraping together tens of thousands of dollars to pay the coyote fees to get their children here. Often, by the time they have the money, the opportunity for a strong parent-child bond is gone.
Quoting MCPD again: “After making their precarious journeys, they often find their expectations do not match the realities of the economic opportunities, cultural barriers and family situations they find here in the United States. The resulting isolation that many of them feel or experience makes them more susceptible to victimization, gang recruitment, and participation in criminal activity.”
Demaris Reyes was an unaccompanied minor. Her mother told the Washington Post she paid $11,000 to have her daughter smuggled to #Maryland from El Salvador in 2014 – but the two never really developed a close relationship. This February, the 15 year old’s body was found by a bridge overpass in #Springfield, VA. Court documents say Demaris was tortured and stabbed to death by other teens she fell in with. Gang members, looking for revenge.
This school year alone in #MCPS, there are 29 “children fleeing violence” (as Montgomery County categorizes them) who are pregnant or parenting an infant.
The County Department of Health & Human Services told the Council that 3 students arrived with children, and one left a baby in her home country. 9 were pregnant when they arrived in the U.S., 5 as a result of “forcible rape”.
And yet, they come.
In part, one might assume…because they have the chance at a better life. Because they are given safe harbor and entry into our schools, no questions asked. It is a noble mission and a lofty idea – but it is flawed.
Now, we have 2 young men – one 17, one 18 – charged with the vicious rape of a 14 year old fellow student at #Rockville High School. MCPD Chief Tom Manger told Fox 5 DC that 18 year old Henry Sanchez Milian was an unaccompanied minor – and that 17 year old Jose Montano was most likely, as well. Both entered the country illegally this past summer. Sanchez was caught at the border, given an order to appear before an immigration judge, and sent along his way. That hearing has not yet been scheduled. Sanchez and Montano both made their way to Montgomery County and were enrolled at Rockville High School.
It is not wrong, cruel, or racist to ask questions.
Montgomery County Government clearly recognizes that unaccompanied minors or “children fleeing violence” have unique challenges and risks. The Department of Health reports 68% of new enrollees in its Care for Kids program were detained at the US-Mexico border.
The county’s Latino Health Initiative says “Due to the severity of traumas and the conditions the children had to endure during their journey from their native countries to United States and the impact caused by several years of family separation, … special and detailed attention needs to be given to the children and their families.”
Given their special needs and risks, is it appropriate for MCPS to admit all into a general education environment without any screening?
Is it possible that the oldest of the group might be better served in a separately housed program with similar aged peers? (And, by the way, HHS data shows the majority of unaccompanied minors are above the age of 14.)
Once they are here – some type of school is probably the best place for these kids and the community. A safe place for them to learn and grow and not be influenced by the lure of the streets.
But what is the price of this open door policy? There is a fiscal toll: nearly $4M a year in Montgomery County for contractors who, among other things, provide support services to unaccompanied minors and their families –
And a physical toll, as we’ve seen too much in our area. I’ll cite county documents again: Trauma. PTSD. Depression. Robbery. Trafficking. Rape. Murder. Yes, there are thousands of unaccompanied minors in our community who have learned to thrive.
So I ask – is the sacrifice of a few to benefit the others – acceptable collateral?
Which brings me back to the toughest question of all: Which is more humane — To let them in, or to turn them away?
I just don’t know.